The image that comes to mind when I think of my father is a smiley face wearing bike shorts, and an easygoing nature that says baaaseettaaaaaa (literally: easy, no problem). He would often take me, my siblings, and our cousins to play outdoors or go on short hikes. His constant mantra in response to our small injuries and complaints was baseeta. For a while during our childhoods, this baseeta became the cousins’ chant when someone would fall down and be subjected to the occasional knee scrape or injury.
My father has always loved nature. At the age of three, he’d sneak out of the house to go explore the hawakeer (backyards) in Ramallah. At university, his mode of transportation was his bike, even in the sub-zero snowy weather of Montreal. He would spend every weekend camping, rock climbing, or skiing. In the early 1990s, he took a sabbatical from work and spent six months backpacking in Asia and Australia, where every day was a new adventure. After he married, and I came along, he would sneak three-month-old me out of the house before my grandmother could realize I was gone and use her grandmotherly VETO power to stop his plans. Later on, going out into nature on weekends as a family became routine. My father has always emphasized the importance of appreciating nature and being active.
My father’s strong connection to nature is fueled by the hovering political powers that try to limit our ability to visit these natural and often historical sites (abandoned Palestinian villages, for example). Using his bike as a means of transport, he is recognized by many as the lone “crazy” cyclist doing the daily commute between Beit Hanina and Ramallah. He has passed on this love of nature to a new generation of Palestinian youth by taking groups of school children on hikes where they were challenged physically and encouraged to connect with each other and with their land.
My father is a dreamer. His dreams revolve around a better educational system in Palestine, one that emphasizes the importance of activity for adolescents, especially when such young lives are overpowered by the constricting forces of occupation and poverty. He dreams of a developed future that liberates youth from the robotic Tawjihi study methods and concepts. He dreams of a future where our youth are critical of the knowledge that is force-fed to us in our school systems, where we fight back with intelligent sound bites and evidence.
I am going to take a moment here to give my father a shout-out for being a never-ending motivational force for me and my siblings (alongside my mother!). A force that ceaselessly strives to push us and challenge us. A force that loves us and makes our family his priority.
Sama Marwan Tarazi